Is it possible to predict user questions?


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Is it possible to predict user questions?

  1. 1. Is it possible to predict user questions? Jonatan Lundin, Information Architect @ Excosoft, Sweden TCUK, 2012-10-04© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  2. 2. Agenda Today, I’m going to talk about: ● The findability problem ● Product and information-seeking behavior among users ● How to predict user questions and make answers findable using SeSAM (Search Situation Architecture and Method)© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  3. 3. “Technical communicators, we have a problem” ● It seems that users are avoiding user manuals, simply because it requires to much effort to find something in them. YouTube Wiki Blogs ? Magazines Physical or on-line user Keyword search (Google)© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  4. 4. Solution: re-think the search user interface ● Many users are used to finding things on commercial sites, such as a travel, a book etc, using rich search user interfaces built on for example a faceted browsing approach. ?© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  5. 5. User focus is to solve a primary goal ● The user primary goal is to solve the need(s) as effectively, securely, reliably and easily as possible. A certain product is used since the user believes that it can be used to solve the needs. Nuclear power plant owner Protect sensitive equipment from Result 1 Need 1 exposure of toxic CO2 A user that Protect humans from A product is Need 2 Result 2 has a need to exposure of toxic CO2 used to solve solve a the primary problem or Record CO2 levels in goal(s) Need 3 Result 3 requirement IEC123 format View actual CO2 levels Need 4 Result 4© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  6. 6. General knowledge about products ● Users possess general knowledge about products (stored as a schema). ● Users know that a product is used to solve a need (primary goal), that it must be interacted with to solve the need, that it can be customized to suit different environments etc. Primary goal Acoustic alarm when actual CO2 level is above a set toxic level Need “Warn workers from Meaningful result exposure of toxic CO2” Aware Secondary goals of need Decide to Evaluate and Use the Maintain the Implement the solve need select a solution selected selected selected solution to solve the need solution solution© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  7. 7. User perception about products ● Users construct a mental model about the product when interacting with it. ● The mental model is often constructed by assimilating prior knowledge which means that the mental model can correspond to the product design or not. Mental model User mental model is: User is: Accurate Inaccurate Certain Uncertain about the mental model User is: User search behavior is: Aware Unaware of the accuracy of the mental model Methodical Unsystematic /calm /unfocused User perceives mental model to be: Users is a Detailed Vague Non risk taker Risk taker© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  8. 8. Users are active and goal oriented ● Users act depending on the constructed mental model – following the principle of least effort. ● If mental model is inaccurate or users perceive it to be vague, or users are uncertain, they end up in a search situation looking for information. Evaluate and Implement the Use the Maintain the Secondary select a solution selected selected selected goals to solve the need solution solution solution Product Task 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Task 5 Task 6 life cycle OK! ? Third ? Third goal goal User tries to use the product and User wants to know how to gets stuck using it. User wants to do task 5 before acting. know how to do task 2.© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  9. 9. Where do user go to find the answer? ● A user has many options to choose from to get answers. ● A manufacturer can take on a reactive or predictive approach to answering questions. User collaboration/keyword search (physical colleague, social on-line community, Google etc) Support ? (reactive approach) Documentation (predictive approach)© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  10. 10. Is it possible to predict user questions? ● User questions are possible to predict if we assume that: ● Users are active and goal oriented, focused on solving a primary goal by reaching for a number of secondary goals. ● Users are asking questions, either of procedural or conceptual nature, due to lack of required knowledge needed to reach these goals. ● A third goal is to find and read the answer to a question in a search situation, and nothing but the answer. Thus users go to a manual to find out how to reach a secondary goals task situation. ● Thus, technical communicators must focus on: ● Predicting user questions as we work in a pre-release mode. ● Providing rich search user interfaces to allow users to find the answer quickly. ● How do we predict user questions and build search user interfaces? ● The traditional “identifying-target-audiences-and-make-a-user-manual-per- audience” principle is not the solution.© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  11. 11. How to predict questions using SeSAM Meaningful result statement Primary goal Acoustic alarm when actual CO2 ”Protect equipment, sensitive to level is above a set toxic level toxic CO2, from damage”Evaluate Implement Use, activate, create Stop, halt View, ensure Troubleshoot CustomizeTask 1 Task 2 Task 3 Task 4 Task 5 Task 6 Task 7 Task 8 t 1) Identify 2) Define 3) Predict 4) Develop required assumed probability of a search user knowledge knowledge questions interface levelMaintenance, upgrade/migrate and administrative secondary goals are not shown in this image© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  12. 12. Designing the search user interface ● Different taxonomies, for classifying the primary, secondary and thirdly goals, are used to build the search user interface. SeSAM taxonomies Primary Result Secondary ? goal statements goal • ------- • ------- • ------- • ------- • ------ • ------ ? • ------- • ------ • --------- • ------ • ----------- • --------- • ---------- Third Usage User goal environment profile • ------- • ------- • ------- • ------- • ------ • ------ • ------- • --------- • --------- • ------ • ------------ • ---------- • ------- • ----- ---- ? ? ? ? Search user interface, as for example a faceted search browser or the actual product ? ? ? ? interface (embedded user assistance) Answers (DITA topics etc)© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  13. 13. Example of a search user interface© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  14. 14. Example of a search user interface© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  15. 15. Questions? ● Interested in knowing more about SeSAM to design technical documentation for findability? Excosoft ( are happy to arrange a workshop or lecture. ● SeSAM home page: ● SeSAM presentations on YouTube: ● SeSAM interest group on LinkedIn: ● Jonatan blog on ● Contact me on technical writing world: ● Mail:© Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin
  16. 16. © Copyright 2012 Jonatan Lundin